Ministry Quest is a win-win-win

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Tabor invests in the next generation through Ministry Quest

By Myra Holmes

Think of it as a win-win-win: Young people gain help determining their call, local churches gain committed workers and the larger church gains a new generation of leaders.

Ministry Quest (MQ), now a program of Tabor College, partners with the local church to help identify and affirm high school young people with ministry leadership potential. MQ began as a program of MB Biblical Seminary, the Mennonite Brethren school for graduate-level theological training located in Fresno, Calif., under a grant by the Lily Foundation. But when the seminary came under the umbrella of Fresno Pacific University, the MB-owned school on the West Coast, MQ found itself a program without a home.

Wendell Loewen saw an opportunity. Loewen, associate professor of youth, church and culture at Tabor College, the Mennonite Brethren-owned liberal arts school located in Hillsboro, Kan., recognized the value of investing in the next generation of leaders and made a bid to bring the program to Tabor. Tabor embraced the vision, and, with the support of the U.S. Mennonite Brethren (USMB) Leadership Board, adopted MQ. Loewen now serves half-time as director of MQ for Tabor.

Steve Schroeder, chair of the USMB Leadership Board, says the Board considered leadership development a necessity, not a luxury. “Without it, we have no future,” he says. The Board also recognized MQ’s good track record and felt it was a quality program.

Ed Boschman, USMB executive director, says that the USMB vision—dozens of churches planted and countless lives transformed— will require a generation of leaders. “We have to start thinking about our nation as a mission field,” he says. “As a national leadership team, we must do everything we can to help our young leaders get that.”

So what’s a college doing with a program that targets high school youth? It’s a perfect fit, Loewen says. And not just as a recruiting tool, although it’s true that the college benefits from MQ alumni who then attend Tabor. More importantly, Loewen sees the program as a service to Tabor’s constituents, a good partnership with USMB and a chance to invest in the future. “We feel good about not only the potential students that could come our way but the opportunity to partner with the denomination as we look to the future of the church,” Loewen says.

MQ was known as an effective program when it was owned by the seminary, so Loewen says Tabor will keep the “heart” intact, with some new nuances. While the seminary focused on potential pastors and missionaries, Ministry Quest will now broaden the interpretation of ministry leaders to include those in any occupation. “We’re running with a broader understanding of ministry, mission and leadership,” Loewen says.

Although Tabor College is owned by Mennonite Brethren in the Midwest, Loewen says MQ will continue to view itself as a national program. He says Tabor values MQ as a “denominational service—a way to help churches all across the country think about tomorrow’s leaders.”

The components of Tabor’s MQ program will look nearly identical to the former program, with two “stages.” The first, “Charting Your Course,” explores the primary calling of Christians—vocation. The second, “Setting Your Sail,” explores how to live out that call individually—occupation.

The year-long program is bookended by retreats. Both students beginning the program and students concluding the program will attend the six-day intensive retreat simultaneously, setting up rich interactions between the two sets of students. The incoming students will listen to the call stories from others and explore what it means to be called. At the same time, those finishing the program will consider how they will live out their call and be sent out to serve. The first retreat for Tabor’s MQ is being planned for late June 2012 in Denver, Colo.

During each of the two stages, the MQ student will be mentored by a leader from their home church for 13 sessions. This “life on life” piece is key, Loewen says, because it secures the program back into the local church.

 MQ has no intention of taking students out of their local church; rather, the program aims to plant them back into their congregation with a renewed sense of purpose and commitment to serve. In that way, the local church wins.

The second stage includes a significant mission experience, designed by the student. It’s a chance for students to get beyond the walls of their church, put their gifts to work and see God at work. It might be a short-term overseas experience or something more local—“something that whets their appetite and inspires them or urges them to want to go and do and be a part of what God’s doing,” as Loewen describes. Along the way, journaling and other assignments will help students process their learning.

The ideal MQ applicant will be 16 to 18 years old, with a growing relationship with Christ, already active in the church and looking toward service. Candidates must be nominated and affirmed for the program by their local congregation because, as Loewen says, it is the task of the local church to identify and call out leaders; MQ’s goal is to come alongside the church in that task.

Boschman and Schroeder both remember being nudged toward ministry during high school by someone in their local church. “That’s my story,” Boschman says. “I know it works!”

For Schroeder, a few words of affirmation after church were so significant he remembers the occasion in great detail even several decades later. It was for him the starting point for a lifetime of service. He says, “I think we can be doing that in our churches, and Ministry Quest can help with that.”

Loewen points out that the year-long MQ program is a starting point, not an end, for students who participate, since living out God’s calling is a journey with no end. For many, it will involve education. For others, it may be a job or other opportunities. “They see their life as a mission opportunity,” he says.

Students, parents or church leaders interested in applying or nominating can find information and forms at www.MinistryQuest.com. Loewen notes that the program is limited to 40 participants, and those spots fill up fast. “Apply sooner rather than later,” he encourages.

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